2001:742 - Adare Castle, Adare, Limerick

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Limerick Site name: Adare Castle, Adare

Sites and Monuments Record No.: RMP 31:32 Licence number: 01E1153

Author: Laurence Dunne, Eachtra Archaeological Projects, 3 Canal Place, Tralee, Co. Kerry.

Site type: Drawbridge pit of inner gatehouse

ITM: E 546359m, N 646150m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.564017, -8.791179

An excavation was undertaken of the drawbridge pit of the gatehouse protecting the inner ward at Adare Castle, Co. Limerick. The castle is situated on low-lying ground on the northern bank of the River Maigue and forms part of the overall medieval complex of the town of Adare. Dúchas are currently undertaking major restoration and conservation works at the castle. Historical references indicate that the castle was built around 1226 by Geoffrey de Marisco. However, architectural evidence suggests that the original foundation was constructed around 1200. This is based on the similarity of roll-mouldings around the embrasures of the south-western hall at Adare to similar mouldings at the nearby Cistercian foundation at Manisternenagh. Much debate has taken place regarding the possibility that the castle was constructed within an early medieval ringfort but this has been largely disproved and it seems more likely that the castle was built within an existing Anglo-Norman ringwork instead. However, this debate should now be revisited on the basis of the recovery of two early medieval artefacts during this excavation.

The rectangular keep, most of which is destroyed, is set within a subcircular inner ward and is further protected by a gatehouse and an external fosse or moat. An outer curtain wall encloses the complex, and entrance is gained through a western gatehouse that included a portcullis. Two rectangular halls are situated along the bank of the Maigue and delimit the southern external enclosing element of the complex.

Adare town was largely rebuilt and redesigned by the earl of Dunraven in the 19th century. During this time Dunraven also undertook major works at the castle, including emptying the fosse, excavating a large section of the river, rebuilding sections of the keep, repairs to the inner gatehouse and other works. It is possible that the drawbridge pit was filled in, covered over and a number of steps inserted during Dunraven’s extensive works between 1840 and 1864.

The inner gatehouse comprises a later 13th-century two-storey structure that is set proud of its connecting curtain wall projecting southwards into the fosse. Its southern elevation displays a distinct batter. The gatehouse has a noticeable inward or backwards tilt, most likely owing to foundation settlement. Its upper level displays chamfered merlons. A rectangular opening is set within the south wall of the upper level. This aperture no doubt accommodated the windlass or equivalent mechanism for lowering or raising the drawbridge. The ground floor of the gatehouse is lit by two virtually opposing and very small loops on the western and eastern walls. The ground-floor section is vaulted over and also accommodates a rear door recess with segmental arch. Within the southern elevation of the gatehouse is a wide recess that extends vertically to incorporate the windlass opening on the upper level. This recess accommodated the drawbridge when raised. As the drawbridge was lowered it connected with a stone drawbridge abutment on the counterscarp of the fosse. To facilitate the raising and lowering a drawbridge pit was inserted within the gatehouse. Essentially, when raised, the drawbridge extended from the upper windlass opening to the base of the pit. As the drawbridge was lowered it pivoted on an axle strategically positioned on the inside of the lower section of the southern wall.

Prior to excavation the steps and other flagstones had been removed by Dúchas and a layer of rubble fill laid down over the area. This upper modern fill was removed, exposing the northern (inner) and southern (outer) limits of the drawbridge pit. The eastern and western side walls of the gatehouse comprised the side walls of the pit. The northern limit of the gatehouse was also revealed, and comprised a paved area, 0.88m north–south by 1.88m, and two southerly disposed steps.

The upper drawbridge pit layers, C3–5 and C8, were very disturbed owing to recent levelling and restoration work by Dúchas during which a small but deep test-pit, C12, was excavated and refilled in the south-east corner. C3 comprised the fill of two massive voids that emerged at the north-east and north-west angles of the pit that eventually extended down to the base of the pit. C4 comprised a heavily disturbed fill that included modern rubbish and overlay C5, an organic topsoil-like deposit. This disturbed deposit was cut by C12 and overlay a patchy spread.

In the lower drawbridge pit, C9 was very similar to C5 but less stony and produced half of an upper decorated rotary quern. It overlay a compact layer which covered a very compact deposit of rammed earth that abutted the base of the north inner face of the drawbridge pit. It was deemed to be of a primary functional nature and was therefore not removed. The base of the pit was an uneven mortar floor that was not excavated.

Few artefacts were recovered from the pit. A composite part of a possible stone-sharpening wheel was recovered from the introduced modern fill and should be regarded as a tertiary find. An iron nail and a single sherd of medieval pottery were recovered from C5. The upper half of a decorated rotary quern was also found. Interestingly, the decoration suggests that it may be an early medieval artefact. Another interesting find was an 8th-century balustrade ring-pin, recovered from the jointing between the masonry at the base of the eastern wall of the pit. Three surface finds from within the castle complex were two stone slates and a fragment of a rotary quern.

It was apparent that the fills of the drawbridge pit consisted primarily of dumped material deposited during the restoration work at Adare by Dunraven in the mid-19th century. None of the contexts could be directly related to the medieval period with the possible exception of C13, regarded as a primary constructional feature, and the mortar floor, C14, neither of which were excavated. Although the number of finds was small, it is significant that two of the artefacts date from the early medieval period. This early medieval dating horizon does lend veracity to the theory that Adare Castle was built within an earlier medieval ringfort.